Thursday, April 8, 2010

Small city, big time family fun

Touring around other cities can sometimes feel achingly familiar. The downtown revitalization project. The spanking new children’s museum. The gorgeous, refurbished zoo. Providence has all that, but it has something extra, too, the incredible WaterFire.

A couple of nights a month )usually April - October, but this year, it may not start until June), dozens of bonfires are lit on the three rivers in downtown Providence. The brainchild of artist Barnaby Evans, the evening includes music, fire tenders passing the flames, and scented wood, engaging several senses at once. Kids and adults find this truly magical; the only downside is that it begins at sunset and lasts till after midnight, cutting into daytime touring the next morning. Some hotels even have waterfront views of the bonfires, which are refueled throughout the evening, but music lovers will want to be at one of the stages presenting live music.

If you are not in town for WaterFire, Providence has another unique way to enjoy its waterfront, on a Venetian gondola. On warm evenings, you can see downtown from a gondola, replete with gondolier and Italian music. Late at night, gondolas are for couples, but early trips are family friendly, and can accommodate a family or group of six.

Providence Children’s Museum has a children’s garden, focusing on native flora and big water play area, where kids can sail boats and build fountains. Coming to Rhode Island, a ‘time traveling’ exhibit through state history and immigration, let kids board a Cape Verdean ship and try out a cotton mill.

Roger Williams Park has a small Museum of Natural History, with a planetarium. The Park has a beautiful antique carousel, part of a ”carousel village” with a playground and pony rides. The Hasbro Boundless Playground allows kids with disabilities to play on the equipment, and offers a full sensory experience for all kids; the adjacent Children’s Sensory Garden lets kids explore flowers through textures, scents and colors.

The zoo, located within the park, has polar bears, a tropical rainforest, and a trail where visitors can follow Marco Polo’s route. On the trail, kids see a Venetian Plaza, Bedouin tent and ancient trading vessel, encountering along the way the exotic animals Marco Polo saw: Dromedary camels, snow leopard and moon bears. In the rainforest, there is a canopy skywalk, a rope and wooden bridge up high, with free-flying birds. The Australasia exhibit has animals indigenous to Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia: tree kangaroos, kookaburras and scrub pythons.

You have to eat at Al Forno any time you are in Providence. They made grilled pizza famous and this will please any child or vegetarian. The wood-fired grill is used for met as well, but there is a 'grilled and roasted veggie' entree, eggplant parm, pasta, fantastic salads and a chocolate bread pudding that might be illegal.

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